Thursday, April 26, 2012

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel’s 64th Independence Day!

As we prepare for San Diego Celebrates Israel this Sunday, our community celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, we thought you would all like to get a glimpse of some of the work we are doing in San Diego in support of Israel, our connection, and one Jewish People. 

This past Tuesday evening about 400 community members shared in the annual Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance) memorial service recognizing those individuals who have died in service to the State of Israel or through acts of terror. Shoshi Bogoch, our Community Shlicha provided exceptional support for the annual Yom HaZikaron commemoration committee.
This coming Sunday, April 29th, more than 70 organizations, synagogues, schools and merchants are partnering to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. We are expecting more than 2,000 participants and several community leaders have remarked about the positive energy in the community around the extensive organizational engagement. For the first time ever, the Friendship Circle is holding its Friendship Walk in collaboration with San Diego Celebrates Israel, and some of the funds raised will benefit children with disabilities in Sha’ar HaNegev.

Thanks to all of the members of our Sha’ar HaNegev Partnership Committee who are working with us to have a strong showing at Yom Ha’atzmaut; and a special shout out to Debbie Kornberg, our Planning Officer, who stepped in to create this highly collaborative community event with Shoshi and Dana Mekler from our Israel & Overseas Center and Nurit Ambrose, Planning Associate. Aaron Truax, Director of Marketing, also has provided a high level of expertise in communicating the “Yoms” to our many stakeholders. 

Please see the eblast below that we sent out yesterday and check out the website at to see the day’s highlights. 

More than 700 people attended San Diego’s Yom HaShoah Commemoration at the JCC on April 15, which our JCRC Director Linda Feldman planned with a committee of community partners. 

We cherish our partnership with Sha’ar HaNegev and rest assured, many of those who come to Yom Ha’atzmaut this weekend will hear about the history of our special relationship, the excitement around the school opening in June, and the work that’s underway to take our partnership to the next level. Thanks to Alon Schuster, Aharale Rothstein, Gil Ya’ari, Udi Tzuri and the Israeli members of the Sha’ar HaNegev Partnership Committee for all that they are doing to strengthen our partnership.

Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach,

Claire Ellman, Jon Schneider, Lisa Haney and Michael Sonduck

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

San Diego Celebrates Israel on April 29!

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County and community partners are proud to announce our annual community event to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut on April 29th held at Ski Beach in Mission Bay Park. This is a free event to celebrate and educate our local community about Israel and her culture. The entire San Diego Jewish community is participating, including Friendship Circle of San Diego, which will be kicking off the day with the annual Friendship Walk on Vacation Isle at 9AM to benefit children with special needs in San Diego and Israel. This year we have partnered with many local organizations, synagogues and vendors to make this the best year ever! We are excited to come together as a community on this day to show solidarity and celebrate Israel’s 64th birthday.

The festival will include a hummus cook-off, free live music, entertainment, with local and special performances, Israeli folk dancing, a circus, kid’s activities, sports, teen programs, arts and crafts, games, a seniors club area, shopping and delicious kosher food! We will also hold an drawing to win free tickets Israel provided by El Al Airlines!

For more information on San Diego Celebrates Israel, visit or call 858.571.3444.

To register from the Friendship Walk, visit:

Facebook Event:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

#NextGenJewCon: JFNA’s TribeFest Hits The Jackpot

The laughing and eager crowd of mostly single, Jewish adults were watching the large projection screens at the front of the conference hall, because the on-stage speaker, Rachel Dratch, appeared tiny and barely visible.

Dratch, a spunky and hilarious veteran of Saturday Night Live, got her point across, as did the other speakers on the Main Stage over the three days of the Las Vegas conference, pitching the Jewish Federation in an elaborate promotion of Jewish community involvement.

By the time the curtain closed on Tuesday morning, TribeFest II seemed like it was a success.

TribeFest, a conference for Jews in their late 20’, 30’s and 40’s, was held for its second year in Las Vegas. Vegas is a town that everyone loves for conferences because even if the conference is boring, there are myriad ways to be entertained and the hotel rooms are to-die-for. For the Jews of TribeFest, Vegas offered a beckoning non-stop night-life to enjoy after a half-day of conferencing.

The conference excitement did not depend solely on Vegas. Organizers and partner organizations crafted a program of break-out sessions that tapped into hot issues in the Jewish community such as sustainability, social entrepreneurship, LGBT, Israel & Zionism, dating, and the upcoming Presidential elections. The entire Monday morning program was devoted to a massive social-action project that brought thousands of books and reading help to students at troubled Vegas schools.

Aside from laughing with Dratch, there were more tears, laughter and inspiration to be found on the Main Stage. A team of lay leaders and staff selected the speakers with a strategy in mind — to underscore the TribeFest narrative of Jewish identity and how attendees can impact their community, do more, and give back, especially within a Jewish and Federation context.

TribeFest presented inspirational speakers such as Talia Leman (age 16) the CEO and a founder of RandomKid; Rochelle Shoretz, a two-time breast cancer survivor, who founded Sharsheret; and Jonathan Greenblatt, founder of Ethos Water, which provides drinking water to impoverished children. Many of the inspirational speakers shared stories of overcoming illness and personal adversity, in addition to their connections to the Jewish community. They also featured community and social entrepreneurs on the massive stage such as Jordan Wolfe from CommunityNEXT in Detroit, and Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, the Director of JHub in London.

I asked many participants about their level of current involvement in the Jewish community. While only the Federation surveys will be able to tell exactly, anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the participants are engaged in some way with their Jewish communities back at home. There were also many age-appropriate, Federation fundraisers, programmers, and lay leaders, in addition to Jewish organizational professionals who were there to participate and present. It is the hope of organizers that those already involved with the Federation will bring back enthusiasm from TribeFest and previously un-engaged participants will be more likely, in the future, to become engaged in local activities.

Sunday and Monday programming culminated with a mash-up of dinner, drinks, music and a shuk of Jewish organizations and initiatives from everywhere. Ethiopian crafts, and Israeli High-tech projects were present along with groups like Israel Forever, Nefesh b’Nefesh, AEPi, and Repair the World. Rabbinical seminaries also had booths. Relatively obscure but eminently talented Israeli acts, reggae band Hatikvah 6 and rocker Aya Korem, were a huge hit in addition to American hip hop artist Kosha Dillz, and the Israeli American band Moshav.

TribeFest participants were fortunate to be joined by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson whose company owns the Venetian. The Adelsons participated on Sunday and Monday and made themselves available to speak with participants for nearly two hours at Sunday’s Mashup.

There were other gatherings on the periphery of TribeFest. A leadership track, a rabbinical track, and some independent parties. Jewlicious and another event organizer, E-3 from Denver, created a huge sensation with a cocktail party replete with DJ and extravagant drinks, in one of the hotel’s finest 8,000 sq foot Chairman Suites.

One of the most memorable moments for me came towards the end of TribeFest. I found myself laughing with 200 other participants at one of the worst on-line dating profiles in the history of Jewish online dating, which was being displayed as an example of how-not to create an online persona. The room, full of single Jews, many of whom with tales of woe and disappointment from the dating experiences among their tribe, offered advice to the speaker about how to make the profile better. And this only made the audience laugh more.

The primary motivations behind getting Jews to Vegas for TribeFest were opportunities to socialize with other Jews and the attractions the city offers. But the primary message they carried away was not one of hedonism and excess. Most came away embracing the Federation’s mission to help Jews in need, Israel, and to serve as dedicated members of the tribe.

The organizers were clearly interested in how many participants took advantage of the subsidized stays in Las Vegas to conference and how many to party, after facing criticism from some about last year’s event. Event participation was recorded for each person by tracking their conference badge via RFID, a wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer and store data. Among the key things that JFNA wants to learn are which issues resonated most deeply with participants to help shape future events, and how to use data on individual participants’ interests to help connect them with programs in their communities.

TribeFest is the best thing going for JFNA — a significant organizational and communal accomplishment for the largest charitable network in the Jewish world. So while participation on a national level at their annual General Assembly convention is down, and Federations around the country are downsizing, TribeFest’s 1,500 delegates is more that last year’s participation and shows no sign of slowing down.

Taking off my observer hat for a moment: TribeFest, like Limmud and Jewlicious Festival, has my backing. We need many more creative efforts to bring Jews together for the purposes of connecting with one another, becoming connected to and inspired about Jewish community, and, yes, partying with fellow Jews.

Our people — and especially those in their 20’s and 30’s — sorely need these experiences as part of their Jewish identity. The number of young Jews around the country eager for opportunities for Jewish connection is huge.

Rachel Dratch, herself of TribeFest participant age, told me, “TribeFest feels very community oriented…. It’s nice to plug back into the Jewish community, I feel a bit unplugged. Its good to recharge and get the Jewish energy going again.” Many others echoed her sentiments.

Building a Jewish future requires us to deploy new and creative ways of engaging our people who are often only partially committed to creating their own Jewish futures. The Jewish Community in North America has tools to engage the Next Generation.

As Sheldon Adelson told me, “Tomorrow’s adult participants are what will connect one generation to the other. These [young] people are the cement. Gatherings like [TribeFest] are the cement to connect generations.”

TribeFest, Jewlicious Festivals, and Limmud, are engaging young Jews by bringing dynamic people together as speakers, teachers, performers, and participants, in intense communal Jewish experiences. These immersive programs help this generation feel proud, feel connected, solve problems, and understand that they are a valued part of the Jewish community.

This approach is working.


Rabbi Yonah is Director of Jewlicious. Follow him on

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chag Pesach Sameach from the Federation!

Dear Friends: 

As the Rabbis tell us, Pesach is a time of redemption, not just the historical redemption of the Israelites   from the ancient Egyptians, but of our own redemption, in each generation. Every year we are instructed to experience the Passover as if we were there, because in fact we are, as the recent events in Israel, in Toulouse, at UCSD and throughout the world remind us every day.

As the Board Chair and new Interim President & CEO of your Federation, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish you, your family and our extended Jewish community Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Passover. May you be surrounded by family and friends and experience the joy of your own redemption this season. May the words of the Shechehyanu prayer be real for all of us. May we each remember and be grateful for life, for sustenance and for the ability to celebrate the season of our redemption.

As most of you know by now, this is also a time of change at Federation. Claire Ellman has been our Board Chair for four months and Michael Sonduck has been our Interim President & CEO for two weeks. While we each are in our new roles for only a short time, we have known each other and worked together for more than seven years. We are both committed to seeing Federation through the challenges of this transition and are embracing this as an opportunity to improve it in every way. We'd now like to report to you on what we're doing with the able assistance of the Federation Board of Directors and staff.
This month, we launched a transition plan to focus volunteer and staff attention on the most important work we have to do and issues we have to face. These include successfully closing this year's annual fundraising campaign; preparing grant recommendations to support the more than 40 organizations in San Diego and throughout the Jewish world that receive funds from Federation; preparing next year's budget; assuring staff continuity and morale; and addressing the myriad daily management and leadership challenges all organizations face.

With the leadership of Caryn Viterbi, we're planning for the review and renewal of Federation's vision and mission, a process last undertaken in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Our Board feels strongly that engaging community leaders and members is essential in this process. We will complete this work within the next four months and look forward to reporting to you on our progress.  

The search for a new President and CEO will follow shortly on the heels of the vision and mission work. Brian Tauber and Theresa Dupuis, both long-serving members of the Federation Board, are co-chairs of the search committee. They are already at work selecting committee members, screening search consultants and refining the process. While the transition, vision and mission, and CEO search work launches, we are also striving to fulfill Federation's commitment to maintaining a strong, vibrant Jewish community in San Diego and throughout the world. Here are a few highlights:

More than 50 community representatives and leaders met on February 29 to launch the new Jewish Community Relations Council. The JCRC will be our Jewish community's "external affairs" arm, focusing on intergroup and interfaith relations, media and government relations, advocacy for Israel and the Jewish people locally, in California and nationally. 

Last week, 35 YAD (Young Adult Division) members from San Diego joined over 1,500 other Jewish young adults from across North America for the second annual TribeFest in Las Vegas from March 25 to 27. Dan Weiss, San Diego’s TribeFest coordinator said "Tribefest was an incredibly worthwhile conference for everyone who attended. We discussed topics on how to motivate and involve Jews in their 20s and 30s, become active in the community, embrace our culture and spirituality, network, and give back. We met other young Jews just like us to learn how their communities are thriving while promoting the ingenuity of San Diego's Federation, YAD events, Clusters, and programs. And Vegas certainly showed us a good time!"

On March 23, 15 local Jewish organizations gathered to receive $100,000 in grants from Federation's Innovation Fund and to listen to David Cygielman, founder and President of Moishe House (Federation's first Innovation grantee), speak about the power and future of innovation in Jewish communal life.

On Sunday, April 15, at 1:30 p.m. the San Diego community will present a special Holocaust commemoration (Yom Hashoah) program. On Tuesday, April 24, at 7 p.m the Israel & Overseas Center of Federation will host Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance. Both events will be held at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.
More than 40 community partners and event underwriters are working with Federation’s Israel & Overseas Center in the final planning stages for this year's San Diego Celebrates Israel Festival to be held on April 29 at Ski Beach in Mission Bay Park. Last year more than 2,000 people attended the annual free event, and more are expected this year. 

In March, the Partnership Together (P2G) joint committee of San Diego and Sha'ar HaNegev leaders met in Sha'ar HaNegev, Israel, to determine which projects will be jointly supported through Federation's Israel & Overseas Center grants.

With funding from an anonymous donor, Federation launched The Mitzvah Makers, a new program in collaboration with area synagogues that inspires values of tzedakah and tikun olam for bar and bat mitzvah-aged young people.

Please take a few moments to follow this link to the Federation website to learn more about these programs and all the work of Federation made possible by your generous support. Your gift to the 2012 annual campaign makes our work possible.

Please take a moment to watch this one minute youtube video as together we celebrate our freedom.

If you haven't yet made your gift to the 2012 Campaign, please click on this link to DONATE NOW!

May your Passover holiday be filled with love, blessings and the joy of freedom.

Thank you, Chag Pesach Sameach,

Claire Ellman
Board Chair

Michael M. Sonduck
Interim President & CEO